Monday, 14 July 2014

Sony Alpha 7S

The Sony Alpha 7S ($2,499.99, body only) is the third camera in Sony’s full-frame mirrorless family. The 12-megapixel shooter joins the 24-megapixel Alpha 7 and 36-megapixel Alpha 7R, but its resolution isn’t the only differentiating factor. The 7S can be pushed all the way to ISO 409600, and although image quality suffers at that extreme setting, its capabilities at less-staggering sensitivities outpace the competition. It can also record video in 4K resolution, but you’ll need to add an external recorder to do that. If shooting in dim light is a must, the Alpha 7S may be the best of the trio for you. But we still prefer the high-resolution 7R as our Editors’ Choice, and recommend the Alpha 7 for shooters who require quick autofocus or want to get the best quality out of adapted lenses.

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The Alpha 7S is, aside from its name badge, physically identical to the Alpha 7 and 7R. It’s compact when you consider that the body houses a full-frame sensor, measuring just 3.75 by 5 by 1.9 inches (HWD) and weighing in at a little over a pound without a lens. There aren’t a lot of other full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market to compare, but the pricey Leica M (Typ 240) qualifies. The Leica is a little bit smaller (3.1 by 5.5 by 1.7 inches), but it’s heavier at 1.5 pounds thanks to brass construction and an optical viewfinder, and the Alpha 7S is a little taller because of its integrated OLED electronic viewfinder. Like the M, the Alpha 7S is sealed against dust and moisture. I didn’t experience any inclement weather during my time with the camera, but had no issues shooting the 7 and 7R in light rain. There’s no o-ring gasket around the lens mount, so I would take some care using them in heavy downpours.

Sony Alpha 7S : Sample Image

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The Alpha 7S uses the same E-mount to attach lenses as previous Sony NEX cameras, including the Alpha 6000, which uses an APS-C image sensor. An APS-C sensor is physically smaller than the 35mm full-frame image sensor housed in the Alpha 7′s svelte body. It’s possible to use older lenses for NEX models that only cover an APS-C image circle; the Alpha 7S will automatically crop images to match the APS-C sensor size when these lenses are attached. Lenses designed for the full-frame Alpha family bear an FE designation.

Like the Alpha 7, the Alpha 7S’s image sensor includes an optical low-pass filter. This adds a bit of blur to images captured, scrubbing away some very fine detail, but eliminating the risk of color moiré appearing in images and video. Moiré is less of an issue with high-resolution cameras like the Alpha 7R, but the filter is still a requirement for the 7S’s 12-megapixel sensor.

Sony Alpha 7S : Sample Image

Physical Controls, Display, Wi-Fi
The A7S puts shooting controls at your fingertips via a well-designed selection of physical controls. There are front and rear control wheels, placed at the top of the camera and accessible when holding it using the handgrip. The top plate houses a standard mode dial, the power switch and shutter release, an EV compensation dial (3 stops in either direction at 1/3-stop increments), and the customizable C1 button—by default it adjusts autofocus pattern, but when the camera is in manual focus mode, it enables quick frame magnification as a focus aid.

On the rear of the camera you’ll find the Menu button to the left of the eyepiece, and the C2 button to its right; C2 is also customizable, and is used to adjust the focus mode by default. The other controls are bunched to the right of the tilting rear LCD; there’s a toggle switch and button that give quick access to manual focus mode when placed in the up position, and engages exposure lock in the bottom.

Sony Alpha 7S : Sample Image

A flat control dial can be spun to adjust the ISO, or pressed in a cardinal direction to adjust the drive mode, change the amount of information displayed over the Live View feed, or to adjust white balance. At its center is a button that is used to select items in menus; when shooting it enables Eye AF, which prioritizes the autofocus system to lock onto a human eye. The Delete button doubles as C3 when shooting; there’s no default behavior, but you can add one via the menu. All of the rear controls are customizable, giving you near total control over how the camera functions. If a certain control is seldom used, or just isn’t in the right place, you can adjust it to suit your needs.

The other control button on the rear is the Fn button. It brings up an on-screen menu that provides quick access to up to 12 camera functions. The default lineup includes the drive mode, flash mode and compensation, the focus mode and area, exposure compensation, ISO, the metering pattern, white balance and color output settings, and dynamic range optimization settings.

Sony Alpha 7S : Sample Image

There’s a record button to start videos; it’s located on the right side of the camera. It’s actually placed quite well, and is easily accessible, but unlikely to be accidentally pressed; it can’t be disabled or reprogrammed, but it can be set only to work when the camera’s mode dial is moved to the video setting.

The LCD is hinged so it can tilt up or down, but it’s not a vari-angle display like the one found on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3, nor does it support touch input. It’s 3 inches in size and packs 921k-dot resolution into that space, which is impressively sharp. There’s no depth-of-field preview button on the camera; instead, the Live View feed changes to show you the focus, depth of field, and exposure as you adjust the aperture of the lens.

Sony Alpha 7S : Sample Image

The EVF is an OLED panel with a 2,359k-dot resolution, similar to the one found in the APS-C Alpha NEX-7. It’s one of the best you’ll find in a digital camera, although we give slight preference to the LCD EVF in the Olympus OM-D E-M1. The LCD tends to give a more natural impression of a scene, while the OLED tends to produce a punchier view of the world with a bit more contrast. The EVF can lag a bit in very low light; it’s not quite as smooth as the E-M1 in those conditions, but it is smoother than the EVFs in Sony cameras from previous years. One bone of contention is that the eye sensor that activates the EVF is overly sensitive. There were many situations where I’d want to use the camera at waist-level with the LCD tilted up to face me, only to find that I moved the 7S a little bit too close to my torso, which deactivated the LCD. You can turn off automatic switching via the menu, but then you’ll have to dive in and manually switch between the LCD and EVF each time you want to make a change.

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